Page:A history of Sanskrit literature (1900), Macdonell, Arthur Anthony.djvu/83

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Vedānta philosophy, still the most popular system of the Hindus.

The practice of the poets, even in the older parts of the Rigveda, of invoking different gods as if each of them were paramount, gave rise to Professor Max Müller's theory of Henotheism or Kathenotheism, according to which the seers held "the belief in individual gods alternately regarded as the highest," and for the moment treated the god addressed as if he were an absolutely independent and supreme deity, alone present to the mind. In reality, however, the practice of the poets of the Rigveda hardly amounts to more than the exaggeration—to be found in the Homeric hymns also—with which a singer would naturally magnify the particular god whom he is invoking. For the Rishis well knew the exact position of each god in the Soma ritual, in which nearly every member of the pantheon found a place.

The gods, in the view of the Vedic poets, had a beginning; for they are described as the offspring of heaven and earth, or sometimes of other gods. This in itself implies different generations, but earlier gods are also expressly referred to in several passages. Nor were the gods regarded as originally immortal; for immortality is said to have been bestowed upon them by individual deities, such as Agni and Savitṛi, or to have been acquired by drinking soma. Indra and other gods are spoken of as unaging, but whether their immortality was regarded by the poets as absolute there is no evidence to show. In the post-Vedic view it was only relative, being limited to a cosmic age.

The physical aspect of the Vedic gods is anthropomorphic. Thus head, face, eyes, arms, hands, fee,